i was my mother’s only child, and she almost died giving birth to me.
we were best friends. the kind that bicker & argue all the time.
we were also so incredibly stubborn.
my mother died in 2013, when i was 32 years old.
we had just spent 18 months living together in an absurdly large house in Goa.
18 months with my mother and her liver tumour.
her dying was an earthquake & a tsunami. i got washed away deep into grief, and self-reckoning; exploring each and every corner of our stubborn, argumentative, confusing, fragile & so deeply loving relationship.
i had a relationship with my mother as she was, and i have a relationship with my mother-as-she-is-now.
it is an ongoing journey. incredibly precious.
when she died, it took me 2 years to find the words i needed to share this journey, and i recently published a short memoir about my relationship with my mother & my journey with her dying.
my mother gifted me with the love of words, poetry & writing- which she herself had inherited from her mother (and father too).
when i was an unborn thing, uncurled in the warm & quiet of her body, she wrote me a poem.
‘To My Unborn Child’, she called it. i would very much like to share it here, with you.
What shall i say to you, you who i can feel day after day,
growing inside me, living inside me,
you whom i don’t know, of whom both of us can say,
flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.
What can i say to you?
And what can i tell of this rude world
where people take death into their hands,
and clinging to their own, disperse that of others
in their betrayal of life, betray their own mothers.
So some take blood, while others shed it.
Human vampires and human victims.
What shall i say to you about it,
You who are yet unborn?
And what shall i answer
if you were to ask about the world
into which you will be born,
that i don’t know when it will burst asunder
because death is riding closer and closer
and the winds of doom are howling louder
as the winds of war will in your ear,
that it is painful to laugh when one is crying,
to stop this destruction and mad pretending,
in the same breath life insurance and atom bombing.
Who shall say life is for the living, and death for the dying,
when the ranks are all mixed up and which of us is lying?
So if you should ask why i should enter your world,
me who belong neither to the dead nor the living,
how shall i answer, except to tell you that i will love you
and i will care for you,
and like fragments of an unknown song stuck in one’s mind
you’ll find somewhere air sweet enough to breathe,
and that if you’re born to die, you’re also born to live,
and there’s space in between to rest your wings
till you’re ready to fly and perhaps find out the reason
why you’re not yet ready to die.
Don’t ask me the reason for why you will be born,
i carry you and will care for you,
i’ll love you with my heart and my mind,
but the reason – that is yours to find.
(written by Sputnik Kilambi on the 22nd May 1980)
Letting-go of a parent is such a deeply personal thing. Everyone experiences it sooner or later.
Nothing can prepare us for it, however many times we have read about it, seen it in films, and watched other people go through it. And like childbirth, the pain of saying goodbye to a mother is like no other pain.
I know now that it is also extremely precious. Not because it is a ‘good’ thing. The circumstances in which we let go of a parent can be extremely painful, unjust and distressing. And the consequences can be devastating too.
When i say that it is ‘precious’, i mean that it is a one-time journey, and if we have the opportunity to really go with it, fully, with every breathing cell of our soul and body…eventually we emerge from it a wiser, deeper, wealthier person.
As far as my journey went, i know i am endlessly grateful for having had the time and the willingness to BE with my mother’s dying, to embrace it, to dance with it, to do it, fully.
Death has become a ‘bad’ thing in many of our societies. It is a kind of taboo. We have rigid conventions that tell us what are the ‘appropriate’ ways of grieving and responding to another person’s grief. Death is painful and therefore talking about it, expressing it, truly and fully engaging with it body, mind and soul – there is little space for this in our day to day interactions.
There is a growing movement of people everywhere who are connecting back to conscious, grounded and holistic ways of relating to dying. People are taking charge of the ways they wish to die and how they wish others to perform their last rites. More and more people are training to become Death Doulas or Soul Midwives, to accompany the dying and their loved-ones. We are connecting back to practices that were alive even a few generations back and still part of the social fabric in many places today.
Not that long ago, people died in their homes. There were wakes. Adults and children gathered, talked, sang, ate, played, got drunk, slept, and stayed with the dead. Those whose calling it was to be a bridge between the living and the dead (the midwife, the shaman, the priest(ess)…) did what they had to do. This is not to say, ‘look how wonderful everything was back then’. There have always been quacks and charlatans, and people motivated by greed and power, seeking to take advantage of others in their more fragile moments. Then and now.
Simply, in this age of bureaucracy, where paperwork, speed and efficiency seem to matter more than human connections, the whole business of dying is exactly that- a business, a transaction, an institutionalised service. Living has been taken over by long working hours and commuting and schedules and timetables. And the space for real, full-being-grieving, has become splintered and fragmented.
Thankfully, i had the all the space in the world to really take the time to grieve when my mother died, and i took it. In the darkest and loneliest moments i sought out the words of others. The simple fact of knowing other people had passed through the exact same circumstances, and had experienced similar emotions and insights- at times, this was a great comfort. And when the time came, i sought out my own words and 2 years after my mother died, those words found me. Now they are floating about in the digital world, ready to accompany others…